Chernobyl

Chernobyl, written by Craig Mazin, dir. Johan Renck. A co-production of HBO and Sky UK.

Reviewed by Keith Davies

This outstanding TV miniseries covers the accident that occurred in the early hours of 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the USSR. From the confusion in the control room straight after the explosion of Reactor 4 to the truth being revealed at the trial of those who were deemed responsible, the show keeps you gripped with its human-centric retelling of events.

The show excels at bringing forward the tremendous human cost and heroics that such a disaster entails, whether it be the firefighters first on the scene battling the initial blaze, unaware of the radiation that would ultimately take their lives, the scientists and bureaucrats tasked with creating a plan to contain and clean up an event that had never occurred on this planet before, or the legion of liquidators tasked with carrying out said plan in the now most dangerous place on earth.

However, I believe the show’s main strength is how it portrays the Soviet government from top to bottom and what appears to be the culture at the time of downplaying setbacks to appease higher ups and to keep the true significance of the disaster ambiguous.  This is shown via cognitive dissonance of plant management refusing to believe that the reactor had exploded, despite the clear evidence that it had, and through the unwillingness of officials to call for the evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat until 36 hours after the explosion, for fear of causing a panic. With this culture in place, it is easy to see how the events portrayed occurred and the struggle of the chief scientist Valery Legasov to prevent further catastrophe and get the truth out.

In all aspects of its production the show excels at bringing out the sense that you are really watching the events unfold in mid-1980’s Soviet Ukraine.

Chernobyl is a poignant reminder of the terrible outcomes that can arise from design decisions made to cut costs, covering up the flaws that arise from such decisions and a culture of workplace hierarchy and bullying. I think it is essential viewing as it demonstrates the critically high cost to the environment and humanity that can arise if any of the above reasons are left unchecked.

Chernobyl is available for streaming on Neon, Sky Go and Sky OnDemand.

History for a new generation

Dawn Raid, by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic New Zealand Limited, 2018.

Reviewed by Shomi Yoon

Meet Sophia Savea, a 13-year-old who lives in Cannons Creek, Porirua during the 1970s.  It’s when the minimum wage was $1.95, when milk was delivered every day, when disco music reigned supreme, and when there was the National government headed by hated ‘Piggy’ Robert Muldoon.

This is all captured earnestly in Sophia’s diary, who is drawn into orbit of the Pacific Panthers through her older brother Lenny. We experience Sophia trying to understand the inequities of society; “Dad works in a factory. I don’t think it’s fair that the government is calling Islanders a ‘drain on society’. My Dad works really hard and he’s an Islander, and all his mates work really hard too. On my gosh, I wonder if Dad has a permit thingy”. Through Sophia, we see her growing political awakening as her family, and other Pacific peoples are targeted in “Operation Pot Black” or as it was known the ‘Dawn Raids’, because police were breaking into Pacific Islanders’ houses in the middle of the night in search of ‘overstayers’, immigrants who did not have the correct documentation to stay in New Zealand.

With the downturn in the economy, the Government promptly used the age-old trick of ‘blame the immigrants’. In the 1970s this rhetoric was against Pacific Islanders, who were brought over when the economy was doing well. “The government was happy to have them [Pacific Islanders] when they wanted cheap labour,” explains family friend Rawiri to Sophia, “but now there’s an economic crisis… Islanders are getting the blame for being a drain on society.” Despite the fact that the most number of overstayers were from Australia and the UK , the Muldoon Government wanted to stoke up racial tension and divisions as a way to divert pressure from them.

This novel also prominently features Lenny, Sophia’s brother, who is drawn into the Polynesian Panthers through his school friend Rawiri. Their friendship embodies the power of solidarity and unity across oppressed groups. “How would you feel,” Lenny asks in the regional speech competition, “if someone took something of yours without asking?”. He gives a compelling speech supporting the Land March in front of the whole school assembly. The ‘dawn raids’ affected Māori too, with some tangata whenua being harassed by police to produce a “passport or identification papers”. Sophia recounts an incident discussed between Lenny and Rawiri about Uncle Pipiri responding to a police officer, “How about you show us your papers first? I’m Māori and I was born here.” [Read more…]

New Perspectives for Rebuilding Union Power

frontcover-f_medium-2fb8dd7e1e725035417e691ea490dc17On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War

By Kim Moody (Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017)

 

Reviewed by Dougal McNeill

 

Is there a revival of working-class confidence happening in Aotearoa? The PPTA and NZEI are going into bargaining with big pay claims (e.g. 16 percent over two years for primary teachers) and health workers went on strike for the first time in decades. The NZEI went on strike in winter, and will have rolling strikes in term four. So far this year there has been action by bus drivers, at Event Cinemas, Wendys, Auckland trains, Lyttleton port, Burger King, Blue Star Group printers and Silver Fern Farms. Wellington bus drivers begin an indefinite strike in late October. Their brothers and sisters in Auckland will follow.

 

This revival takes place, however, in a context of ongoing crisis for our movement. Membership has fallen massively. In 1985 almost half of the workforce was in unions but, by the 2010s, less than 9% of those in the private sector are members. We lost some 320,000 members through the 1990s, as the Employment Contracts Act made it difficult to organise and easier for bosses to attack. Workers’ confidence to fight has slipped. There were 381,710 days ‘lost’ to strikes in 1988; by 2014 that number had slumped to just 1,448. The benefits of union membership are concentrated in the public sector, and union members are older than the working population generally.

 

What explains this decline? Many commentators argue that the nature of work has changed over the last thirty years, making union power less relevant. We have seen the rise of a “precariat”, Guy Standing claims, drifting in insecure jobs with little to gain from unionism. Others look for new ways of building – the ‘organising model’ – that use community support and savvy media campaigning to work around our workplace weaknesses. Helen Kelly pioneered imaginative campaigning like this, and the Living Wage movement has won victories with similar approaches. There’s much here to support, but it still avoids, rather than confronts, the key question: without union power, the power of the strike, what future will our movement have?

[Read more…]

The Expropriators are Expropriated

Tom O'Lincoln‘The Expropriators are Expropriated’ and other writings on Marxism’

By Tom O’Lincoln (Melbourne: Interventions Inc).

Reviewed by Shomi Yoon

Tom O’Lincoln’s The Expropriators are Expropriated is a collection of talks and essays from his political career in socialist organisations in Australia from the early 1980s. Tom’s writing is immensely readable and easy to understand. In this collection, he delivers complex Marxist theory in accessible presentations. Topics range from dialectics, theories of economic crises, the trade unions, and more.

The pieces collected here are insightful, accessible and reflective. Most can be read in one-sitting, so it’s perfect introductory reading. For those wanting to find out more, each chapter contains detailed endnotes and there is a bibliography detailing Tom’s other writing.

Tom’s chapter on ‘Dialectics: the power of negative thinking’ is refreshingly clear: “Dialectics is built up into a big mystical affair, an impressive array of mumbo jumbo to intimidate people. And so it’s no wonder people sometimes come up and ask me: just what the hell is dialectics?” Tom sketches the link between Hegel and Marx’s understanding of the dialectic and draws out four important principles. The idea that everything is in constant flux; that we’re not bound by formal logic; that everything gives rise to its opposite; and that gradual quantitative change can at certain moments lead to qualitative change. He ends the chapter quoting Lenin linking the relevance of dialectics with revolutionary practice. [Read more…]

A Rebel’s guide to Eleanor Marx

A Rebel's Guide to Eleanor MarxA Rebel’s Guide to Eleanor Marx, by Siobhan Brown

Reviewed by Gowan James Ditchburn

“Eleanor Marx saw an alternative: a class that organised across borders, just as the rich do. She was a champion of the oppressed who linked the everyday struggles to a big vision. Our task remains the same.” These are the concluding lines of Siobhan Brown’s short book on Eleanor Marx, and for those of us that fight for a better world they hold true, our task remains the same.

Brown makes it clear that the focus of this book is not the personal life of Eleanor Marx, the focus of so many biographies which overlook the importance of her legacy. This book shines a spotlight on Eleanor’s work at the centre of a powerful trade union movement and her struggle for the rights of the oppressed. This it does amazingly well. Despite the fact the book is only 55 pages long and can fit in your pocket, Brown is able to examine the political context as well as the actions of Eleanor herself. This all important context is key to understanding the contributions of Eleanor Marx to the various struggles examined in the book and for understanding her legacy. [Read more…]

Review: Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)

Raising_Expectations_CMYK-ea2bdfd656192ed171c5e1190134e229Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement

by Jane McAlevey,

Verso, 2014.

Reviewed by Alastair Reith

Workers today, in more cases than not, bear passive witness to a world where we have less power and a smaller share of society’s wealth than in generations. It’s rare for us to see any substantial challenge to this take place, and rarer still for us to become more than witnesses.

In Raising Hell and Raising Expectations Jane McAlevey gives a no holds barred account of her years as a full time organiser in the American trade union movement. Her account of a health care workers insurgency in Nevada, USA, is at times inspiring, at others hilarious, and at still others deeply disturbing. As memoirs go it’s not primarily focused on getting to know her as a person, but rather on telling the story of how she came to be where she did; struggling to rebuild a movement for a more just and equal world and facing obstacles to this from employers, politicians and even from other trade unionists. [Read more…]

Love’s Labour’s Lost

LLLLove’s Labour’s Lost

Directed by Ania Upstill

The Dell, Wellington Botanic Gardens until 27 February. Tickets here.

Reviewed by Romany Tasker-Poland

The scene is set for a pitched battle at Ania Upstill’s Summer Shakespeare production of Loves’ Labours Lost. We sit along a thrust stage, or rather lawn. At one end sits the stuffy pomp of the Court of Navarre: columns, pedestals and balustrades shaped like closed books. The gentlemen of Navarre have sworn themselves to a period of celibacy, fasting and study, but find themselves besieged by a band of marauding women; the glamorous and witty Princess of France and her entourage set up camp in the opposing corner, in a tent shaped like an upturned flower.

[Read more…]

When Black Workers Organized Against Jim Crow

hammer and hoeHammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression by Robin Kelley.

Reviewed by Martin Gregory

 

A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this wonderful classic work of workers’ history was published last year. Robin Kelley has magnificently brought to light the little known struggles of communist party-supporting workers and sharecroppers, the majority of whom were black, under ferocious conditions of repression in Alabama, USA. This chronicle takes place against the background of the 1930’s depression, Communist Party politics and the segregationist regime in the Deep South where black resistance ran the risk of lynchings. Communist advocates of “social equality” were liable to beatings, arrests and jail-time.

It was not until 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash, when the American Communist Party (CP) attempted to organise in the south. The Party sent a couple of organisers to Birmingham, Alabama, an industrial city on the fringe of the cotton-growing black belt. After their first public meeting the home of one of the Communists’ speakers was fire-bombed. [Read more…]

Ruth, Roger, and Me

Ruth Roger and ME

Ruth Roger and Me, by Andrew Dean

Published by Bridget Williams Books

Reviewed by Kevin Hodder

 

Ruth, Roger and Me was a bit of a left field media sensation when it came out earlier this year. Andrew Dean, Rhodes scholar at Oxford, is an unlikely voice for the struggling youth of 2015. However, his reflections on the challenges faced by young people today, on growing up in Christchurch and Ashburton, and the impact of the neoliberal policies typified by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson are poignant and direct. [Read more…]

Nice Work if You Can Get It

don franks nice work

Nice Work if You Can Get It; Notes from a Musician’s Diary

By Don Franks (Steele Roberts, $19.99)

 

Reviewed by Shomi Yoon

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of the social functions of the rich and powerful but not be tainted by that experience, then Don Frank’s Notes are  whimsical retellings of being that musician. From playing for the Young Nats, to Piggy Muldoon’s birthday party at a high class Italian restaurant, even to the Police Association, Don has played for the lot. [Read more…]